Updated: Jul 3, 2021
The question of whether vaccination should be made compulsory for all is debatable. On one hand, vaccination is necessary to curb the pandemic. On the other, it’s inhuman to force someone to take a vaccine against their will. If someone chooses to skip taking the vaccine, they are doing it keeping the risks in mind.
In India, it’s not mandatory to take the vaccine. You can take the vaccine only if you register on CoWIN’s portal. According to the Supreme Court, if any person or authority tries to forcefully vaccinate the public, they’ll be liable for action under section 188, 166 of the Indian Penal Code.
Even the Meghalaya High Court recently ruled against compulsory vaccination of shopkeepers, vendors, local cabbies and others. These people were asked by the state government to get vaccinated in order to resume their business. In its judgement, the high court noted that compulsory vaccine would be a violation of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian constitution. It would also go against the Supreme Court’s verdict.
The judgement also highlighted Article 7 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.”
Keeping these things in mind, Meghalaya High Court’s decision seems to be well found. Not only will compulsory vaccination create panic, it will also not be tenable considering the country’s limited vaccine resources. When the vaccine was opened for the 18-45 age group, several people struggled to find slots after registering. If a rule makes vaccine mandatory, several people will suffer for no fault of their own.
Earlier, the Delhi High Court had cracked down on compulsory vaccines (for measles, not Covid-19) for children. They asked school officials to get a consent form signed before attempting to vaccinate any student. “The assumption that children could be vaccinated forcibly or without consent is unsustainable. This Court is of the view that all efforts are required to be made to obtain the decision of the parents before proceeding with the MR campaign,” the judgement said.
“The contention that indication of the side effects and contraindications in the advertisement would discourage parents or guardians from consenting to the MR campaign and, therefore, the same should be avoided, is unmerited. The entire object of issuing advertisements is to ensure that necessary information is available to all parents/guardians in order that they can take an informed decision,” it added.
There are valid arguments from the other side of the table too. The lockdown (which is several times more expensive) was made mandatory and it did help in slowing down the spread of the disease. Every decision that gets taken needs to be decided after taking the society’s interests (and not just one individual) in mind. If a seatbelt is mandatory in air travel, why is a vaccine voluntary?
As of 28th June 2021, only 19.2 % of the entire Indian population has received at least one dose. Out of that, only 4.1 % have been fully vaccinated. Whichever side of the argument you’re on, you have to agree that those numbers have to improve if we are to avert the impending third wave.